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Virginia town council affirms community water fluoridation

Timberville, Va.—Fluoridated water will continue to flow in this small Virginia town following a town council vote Feb. 12.

The town council debated the issue for months, and experts on both sides of the issue weighed in at council meetings and a public forum.

In late 2008, the town council voted to hold a public referendum on the issue. However, a state rule requires legislative approval for local ballot initiatives. A bill to approve a voter referendum did not pass in the commonwealth's general assembly, leaving the matter in the hands of the town council.

The council's subsequent vote resulted in a 3-3 tie. Mayor Don Delaughter cast the tie-breaking vote for fluoridation.

Dr. Alan Robbins, Timberville's only dentist, presented the case for fluoridation to the council. "I had quite a bit of support," said Dr. Robbins, "including the local physician, the Virginia Dental Association, the Shenandoah Valley Dental Society and dentists from Harrisonburg [about 20 miles away]."

Dr. Robbins also received technical assistance from the ADA during the past year.

"I've gotten an education," he added. "It's really been interesting. In talking with colleagues it is apparent that we as dentists tend to take community water fluoridation for granted. We just don't think about not having it. Those citizens who don't want it come armed with data and as dentists we need to know our stuff. I spent a lot of time doing research and my advice is just be informed. It's important for dentists to become familiar with the arguments that the other side is using so they will be prepared to counter them."

"The Virginia Dental Association was pleased to see a measure that could have led to the removal of fluoride from the drinking water in the town of Timberville fail," said Dr. Ralph L. Howell Jr., VDA president. "Fluoride addition to the public water supply has been one of the greatest public health initiatives of the last 50 years. We already face an access to care problem in Virginia and the increase in dental disease created by removing fluoride would have caused the problem to escalate. We are grateful to have educated legislators that listen to fact and science when making decisions that affect the health of the citizens of the Commonwealth."

The issue of holding a voter referendum on fluoridation may end up in court, added Dr. Robbins. According to an article in the Daily News-Record, a Timberville resident filed a petition for a "writ of mandamus" with Rockingham County Circuit Court on Feb. 12 hoping to get a court order to put the issue to vote by referendum this fall.